A recent survey focused on trends in education philanthropy reveals that instead of academically-focused areas, donors tend to be favoring investments centered on “whole learner” approaches, which support wraparound services, social-emotional learning, and increased engagement with families and communities, Education Week reports.
The Grantmakers for Education survey of 91 funders, who were collectively responsible for at least $794 million in funding in their latest fiscal year, also said they were interested in early-childhood and postsecondary education. However, the amount of respondents — one-third — who said they invested in early-learning projects in fiscal 2018 was about half as much as the 66% who said they funded postsecondary education and workforce and career readiness, Education Week notes.
Funders also seem to be focusing on educational equity, and survey respondents also appear to be less confident in the federal government in leading education reform — a trend likely spurring less top-level investments and more spending decisions at the state or local level, according to Education Week.
While donor funding does not represent schools' total funding packages, these trends reveal what educational topics philanthropists and other wealthy donors may see as some of the better returns for their investments, as well as where they may see the most need.
While these results indicate that funding may be flowing away from academic-focused areas, one argument in support of this shift is that K-12 funding is guaranteed by law — though educators and lawmakers may haggle over what constitutes sufficient funding or where that funding should fall. Early-childhood education, though, is one initiative that's less likely to be funded at the state or federal level — and in several cases, it's not — even though some researchers see it as the best return on investment.
Postsecondary funding falls in the same category. Public institutions of higher learning do receive state funds, and Pell Grants and other federal aid sources can help send students to college. However, these programs are often insufficient in helping everyone who needs financial assistance, and students have to apply and qualify for this help. There are many students who may not qualify for enough grants or scholarships to attend college, or who need extra support to make their way through successfully. Funding programs that help students who are willing to make the investment of time and energy to pursue higher education could arguably be a better bet in the long run, especially if donors are wanting to support certain fields of study or industries.
On the K-12 front, many donors are recognizing the effects of poverty on education, and longstanding issues like the achievement gap still reveal that more equitable funding solutions are needed in the education space. Providing support for wraparound services, such as community school models, could be a good way to support students without becoming directly involved in educational reform efforts that may or may not work. Donors are also seeing more benefits in social-emotional learning, which improves the school environment for all members and helps better prepare students for the workplace and for their roles in society. These approaches all help support the whole child, rather than just focusing on the student role, and as a result, they're gaining philanthropists' attention.